It’s been said that getting clean and sober is easy, but staying sober is the hard part. For many alcoholics or drug addicts stopping the use of alcohol and/or drugs can be the easy part of battling alcoholism or addiction. Don’t misunderstand. In no way does this mean the actual withdrawal process or life as an addicted person is whatsoever easy. Preventing relapse is essential to recovery.
You’ve been in substance abuse rehab and now you are re-entering mainstream society. Anxious thoughts race through your mind as you try to imagine how your life will be now. You want to stay sober but you know there is always a chance of relapse. There are several things you can do to help insure abstinence from drugs and alcohol.
- To prevent relapse do not drink. If you don’t put alcohol into your body, you don’t get drunk. The same principle applies to using drugs. This is one of those easy things to say and harder than heck to follow. At the end of the day though no matter what other things that you do and no matter how hard it was to get through the cravings, if you don’t actually pick it up you won’t restart the cycle of addiction in your body.
- Find positive support that makes you feel good and leads toward health and recovery. For example, if you like writing, join a writing group. Choose activities or hobbies that increase your self-esteem and boost confidence. Increasing self esteem will increase your chances of staying sober.
Choose people in your life that will be supportive of your decision not to drink or do drugs. It can be hard to find other people who do not drink but they are out there. You might be the person who has stopping drinking and using drugs, but this does not mean that you have to allow any kind of behavior to happen around you. Get really picky about the people that you want in your life. Sometimes this will be very hard and can be painful.
- Set goals. Make a list of things you want to accomplish. These goals can be as diverse as you. They can be “small” goals like watching a sunset to something big, such as going to college, saving money to buy a house or car, repairing your credit, and so on. Don’t be afraid to dream big.
- Try new things. For many alcoholics and addict their lives were so deeply involved with the relationship with their addiction that life passes them by. Figuring out the foods, places, or activities that you didn’t get to participate in because you were not fully present is really important. Some things cost money, some are free, it depends on what you want. Start slow. If you’ve never been swimming and you want to go, but don’t want to jump in the river all at once then sit by the edge and put your toes in the water.
- Pay attention to triggers. Certain times of the year may be harder, like holidays, birthdays, or an anniversary of a traumatic or stressful event. During these times, place extra support in your life. You can go to an AA or NA meeting, avoid triggering places or people, have a friend around, or draw on your other coping skills. If you find a new trigger that makes you feel like getting high or having a drink make sure to make a mental note (or write it down) about what it was so that you know how you can handle it in the future.
- To stay sober and prevent relapse you need to always have an escape plan if you are going to places where alcohol is available. This can mean driving your own car so you can leave if you’re uncomfortable, having a person to call to pick you up, or taking someone with you that supports your sobriety. If you’re struggling in your recovery, make alternative plans. Protect your sobriety at all costs.
- Staying clean and sober is hard. Go easy on yourself. Pay attention to how far you have come. Stopping drinking (or using drugs) is difficult and a huge accomplishment all by itself. Preventing relapse is part of recovery.
- Never give up and hold on like this is your life. Sometimes recovery is not always graceful, but as long as you keep fighting it doesn’t matter.
Find and stay in aftercare. When you maintain a long and intense commitment to aftercare therapy and 12 Step meetings, you will discover the support you need to stay sober and you will be in an environment of people who have been through the nightmare of substance abuse. Aftercare will help keep you focused and it will help keep you grounded. One of the most accurate predictors of relapse is overconfidence and a minimization of aftercare. Those that are realistic and seek aftercare therapy and participate in 12 Step groups have the greatest success rate of sobriety.
- Keep busy. You have decided not to hang around the people that you hung out with before you went to treatment because you do not want to be around drugs and alcohol. This is a great step but it could leave you feeling lonely. Call your sponsor when you feel that you want to use out of boredom, restlessness or loneliness. Many recovering addicts do not know how to spend their time without using. Making friends in aftercare and picking up new, safe hobbies can help pass the time as you adjust to a sober life. Also, finding employment can help keep you busy and it will help with feelings of self-worth as you make wise decisions.
- Take care of yourself. There are many things that can trigger a craving. Being hungry, angry, lonely or tired can induce a craving that you might not be expecting. Taking care of your body and soul will help preempt risks. Eating right, getting enough sleep and keeping a list of sober friends can help you take care of yourself.
- Follow your relapse prevention plan. You worked very hard on this plan while you were in treatment and you have mentally prepared for many different situations that might lead to relapse. Use your plan diligently the first year and you will find that it will help you out of many situations. Recovering addicts that ignore the recommendations of their plans and ignore the triggers and situations that may bring about relapse are asking for trouble. Your prevention plan is an important key to recovery and it should be followed explicitly.
- If you slip and use again, don’t fall back into full-blown abuse. Relapse can happen to even the most diligent of those recovering. Staying sober is a life-long commitment and program of action and if a relapse does occur, do not come down so hard on yourself that you accept defeat. Feelings of regret are powerful but you must not fall back into destructive habits. If you do slip, call your sponsor and discuss why you used, what the triggers were and how you are feeling.
- Listen to the suggestions from the rehab you were in. Drug and alcohol treatment rehabs specialize in teaching addicts how to live without drugs. They have vast amount of knowledge and guidance based upon what has worked for their clients and what has not worked. Be mindful of what they say and take it to heart. Rehab facilities want their clients to stay sober after leaving treatment and they offer tangible, good advice.
- Talk to your parents. It does not matter if you are a teen or young adult. Open communication with family, especially parents, is an effective way of ensuring that you make healthy choices after treatment. Let your parents know how you are feeling. Maybe you are bored or lonely or stressed. All feelings, including the good ones, can trigger a relapse. By talking with your parents, you are not only developing this relationship but with support from them, you will make sound, healthier decisions.
- Develop a support network and safety net. As soon as you leave treatment, you should begin to participate in an aftercare program. Aftercare programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous can help you deal with and resist temptation. You will begin to learn from your own mistakes and from the mistakes of others as well. You will most likely get a sponsor whom you are to call whenever you find yourself in a situation that tempts you. This network will be an extended family to you and they will be there to help catch you when you stumble or fall. You will discover that you are stronger than you think.
- If you are in school, go and speak to your advisor. There are most likely other students that have been to treatment and getting in touch with these students can help you to meet new, sober peers. You’re friends are most likely still using and you do not want to be around people like that. Making new friends will help you to discover a sober life. You can also seek a safe haven with teachers or advisors. Many will allow you to spend time in their classrooms or offices when you feel weak or when you feel alone. They can also provide guidance for you as you readjust to sobriety.
- Use the techniques you learned in treatment. You most likely learned skills for dealing with peer pressure and triggers while you were in rehab. Use these and any other skill you learned to help you when you end up in situations that are tempting. You have practiced and now you need to do what is best for you. If you feel that you need more help with coping, call your sponsor.
Rehab is not a quick fix because recovery is a life-long process. Seeking and being dedicated to aftercare therapy is one of the best things you can do to remain sober. Talking to family and developing a support system will also help with your journey. No single suggestion can ensure you will always stay sober, but an individualized mix of the suggestions plus what you have learned from treatment can give you valuable tools for life-long sobriety.